Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting together a do-it-yourself online course called the Radical Discernment Toolkit.

Writing these past few weeks have reminded me how hard it is for me to sometimes write about burnout. Books are tidy things, and healing is usually not.

And, so, at the beginning of the course, I’m including a segment called Why I Still Have Doubts About Writing a How-Tos for Burned Out Changemakers. I want to share it with you today.

Here it is, shared with so much love and appreciation for your readership. Thank you for being here.

First: The root causes of burnout are usually systemic.

Too often, coaches and healers insist that inner work alone can change the world.

I disagree.

Under late stage capitalism, most of us need to make money to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, and the threat of financial precarity lurks ever-present.

If we had robust safety nets and communities of care, we’d all have a much easier time stopping when we get tired and taking care of ourselves.

In the face of systems that wound us, it’s true that personal healing is a radical act. And it’s true that we don’t need to wait to dismantle capitalism to take better care of ourselves.

And it’s also true that if all humanity needed were privileged people to put ourselves first, we’d all already be free.

To create the more beautiful world we long for, we must learn to honor our needs. And we must work to build collective power, dismantle systems of oppression, and redistribute power to communities on the margins.

To create the world we long for, we need inner work and outer work.

Second: My social location is relatively proximal to power.

Although my teachings have helped me and hundreds of my clients, I am a white, middle-class, US-citizen, college-educated, able-bodied, neurotypical, cis-gendered woman. I have limited perspective of the territory of what it takes to meet our needs.

While I hope very much that this map I offer will serve you, the map is certainly not the territory.[1] If you experience greater oppression than I do (and even if you don’t), please trust your experience and investigate what works for you.

Third: Oppression limits choices.

Writer, feminist theorist, and cultural critic bell hooks wrote: being oppressed means the absence of choices.[2]

I define power as the ability to make choices that impact our lives and the lives of others. The less proximity to systemic power we have, the fewer choices we have and the more obstacles we face on our journey to meeting our needs.

And yet, oppression gains power when it convinces us that we have no choice. As writer, poet, and activist Alice Walker wrote: The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.[3]

As Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl wrote: Everything can be taken from a person but one thing—the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.[4] Choosing to choose is an act of power.

Fourth: Although books are linear things, with pages, parts, and chapters with tidy little numbers, change is not.

Life is messy.

Although clearly ordered steps can make change feel easier, we humans rarely transform or make decisions according to a step-by-step formula. Developing the ability to nurture ourselves is not a linear process.

As we go, please remember that you are human. Please do your best to give yourself love and not expect perfection.

Fifth: To heal, learn, and change, we need support from real-life people.

The research—as well as my experience as a human and coach—has convinced me that the single most important factor leading to change is supportive relationships with other humans. The path feels less hard and the pain less acute when we receive accompaniment from others.

It’s hard to just read a book and change your life. I wish I could be there by your side as you read this. And yet, writing it all down still feels like second best. I hope very much that you find a sense of accompaniment and support in my words as we go.

Sixth: I’m not yet perfect, either.

As a recovering workaholic who used to live on the brink of burnout, I still overdo it sometimes and get tired.

Finding the sweet spot where I can show up effectively and yet experience a sense of internal alignment and fulfillment is a dance I am still learning, and I have yet to find a place of perfect balance.

And yet, these practices have become some of my most trusted allies on the path to showing up as an activist, city councilor, business owner, mother, partner, and human being. And I want you to have them, too. 

Seventh: When we’re burned out, sometimes we just can’t.

Of course, we may know that reading a book and taking steps toward change would be good for us, but every practice, no matter how simple, takes energy to get started, and starting when we’re exhausted can feel near impossible.

So, if you hear yourself saying: I just can’t …

Don’t.

Cancel as much as you possibly can.

Prioritize sleep.

Identify your minimum commitments to self-care, and do your best to stick to them. (You’ll find this practice in Chapter Four.)

Feel free to do the practices without reading anything else.

The central message of radical discernment is this: Pause. Notice what you feel. Notice what you need. Choose a next step that honors your needs. Notice what works. Repeat.

Is there way more to healing than that? Sure.

But if you keep doing that, you’ll be headed in a good direction.

May you find both humility and pride amid the complexity. And be accompanied by good friends.

 


[1] Alfred Korzybski is quoted as saying “the map is not the territory.” Alfred Korzybski. Science and Sanity. (Lancaster, PE: Institute of General Semantics, 1995).

[2] bell books. Feminist theory: from margin to center. (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1984).

[3] As quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever: Why the Left is Right (2004) by William P. Martin, p. 173.

[4] Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2006.)

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